It is a tradition among Filipinos to reminisce a deceased person on his or her 40th day of passing. The 40th day signifies a person’s final crossing from the Earth to the Afterlife, thus giving him or her eternal rest in the arms of God.
For many years, I have witnessed people commemorate the death of their loved ones especially forty days after they die. When my father passed away in 2011, I remember that we even went to his hometown to celebrate his 40th day of passing. We cooked food and we held a mass and a prayer vigil for him. That was the last time I ever attended 40th day.
Until today, November 16, 2017.
Forty days ago, I attended a lecture I had conducted among college scholars of Caritas Manila. I have not visited my scholarship coordinator for a long time, I think ever since I graduated in 2014, and that was the only way I could ever repay her for all the help she has given me while I was studying. The morning of October 8, everything was fine, and I attended very early for the fear that I might be late again.
After the lecture (which I find enjoyable and uplifting), I treated my mentor to a lunch date in a nearby restaurant. We talked about a lot of things, discussed a lot about future plans, and tried to catch up for our lost years. God, I missed the woman. I feel so blessed to have her in my life.
As I got home in the afternoon, everything was fine. My boyfriend visited me (which was our routine every weekends) and stayed at home instead of going to the mall. While he played on his phone (an avid fan of Mobile Legends), I spent time with my niece and nephew who are both little and very playful. I was not engaged in an activity that could keep my head busy because it was just plainly Sunday. I was watching a movie, I remember it was The Avengers: Age of Ultron. It was an entirely normal evening…when I received a message.
At around 7:30 in the evening, a former student of mine sent me a message. We do talk regularly. He sends me a message when he has no one to talk to. He occasionally mentions me on Facebook or Twitter, usually for teasing. He sometimes pays a visit on me at school, bringing me some food (sometimes dog food, which he intends to prank me with) and talks to me about random things. He randomly send me memes in Messenger, almost every week, particularly memes that are way-out of ordinary fun. We laugh together, insult each other together, make fun of other people together, a lot of things we do together. Everything was fine.
That very idle night, I slowly opened my Messenger as I saw a notification from him. The message says:
To which I replied:
Sometimes, life is so playful that you can never guess what happens next. Usually, when we are dealing with our every day lives, things are controllable and predictable. And so it seems, that life has very unexpected ways to surprise us with just a little twist. A twist that could change one’s life forever.
As I have said, it was a very idle night. I was bored and I have not found the same responsive “Ms. Khris" to instant messages. He again sent me another one, asking me this question:
“Would you hate me?”
I and my son usually talk about things philosophically. We always try to reason out on everything, doing our best to outwit each other. We often spoke in English even in Messenger, and so it appears as if we were sophisticated, elegant arguers. Sometimes, I find myself overwhelmed by his wisdom — his logic was so amazing that at times I could not respond correctly at all. We make fun of each other through puns. We loved to play with words.
I thought of the question for about a minute, remembering myself thinking of a good answer or a question that I could throw back to him. Eventually, I responded with a very dull:
“I don’t know.”
A few months back when we attended their annual retreat (he was a Grade 10 student moving to Senior High School), we met one of the retreat masters who just happened to be “plus-sized". Since then, he calls me Ate Gaines (Gaines was the name of the retreat master) and frequently compares me to the plus-sized lady. I always laugh it out, teasing him back a dinosaur. Again, he mocks me back as a whale.
I was not in the mood for a philosophical conversation, and with the dullness of the evening overcoming me, I replied to him:
I may or may not hate you for the same reason.
I should not have said that.
You see, we were not very close at the beginning. I met him when he was in Grade 8, I have been his English teacher since then. We did not talk that much until mid-2016 when things started to get rough on him. He became a part of my advisory class in S.Y. 2016–2017. Perhaps he has gotten no choice, so he found a companion in me.
He opened up about almost everything to me, but I figured out some of his secrets accidentally. He would often curse me because I learned something I should not, and I usually use it to blackmail him. In return, he always made fun of my size, saying I’m a lot bigger than him. I never took his teasing seriously. It was all just too playful for me, and I began to love him being that way.
I asked him and his classmates to publish a blog for our English subject so that they could make use of their time in computer/internet sensibly. For educational purposes, I asked them to write a journal entry of their weekly experiences, to which he revealed some of his hellish experiences at home and in school. Once, I talked to his father about his sentiments. That was the first and the last time I ever talked to his parents.
My son had a way with words. He was a good poet. He had a beautiful mind, just like what they say. He just did not know how to use punctuation properly, often creating run-on sentences and a whole paragraph written like a law clause. I knew that part of him.
I almost knew every piece of him.
I knew it when he missed his sister (his closest sibling) so much. I knew it when he despised his classmates for being too noisy so preferred to stay alone in the gymnasium. I knew it when he was brokenhearted…someone told me by accident, and he eventually told me everything about it. I knew it when he was down when his dog crossed the line — his dog was his only company at home. I knew it when he cursed himself, hated himself, hurt himself… and I tried my best to be there for him.
One time, he visited me at the school, wearing a full-sweater that was very inappropriate for the weather. When I asked him why was he there, he revealed to me his arm-length scars… wounds he inflicted to himself. Then, he cried. And I cried, too. I did not know what to do. I learned that his family was aware of the wounds, so I called one of his trusted teachers, talked to him, made sure everything was fine, brought him to McDonalds, and sent him home safely and happily. I even hugged him that night. He was indeed a big guy.
He then occasionally visited me in school for no specific reasons. He sometimes brought me “pasalubong", which turned out to be premium dog food. The next time he visited, he brought a box of California Maki, but it also turns out that the food was supposed to be given to his dog. He was such a prick. One time, he dropped by during one of our monthly meetings in school, so I was just able to talk to him for a short time. The last time he tried to visit me, I was asleep. My colleague asked him whether she should wake me up, but he refused and said he’d be back.
He never came back after that.
I will never forget that one night at around June or July, he sent me a message that touched my heart so much. He said:
“YOURE THE BEST TEACHER I EVER HAD, SO CHILL, SO COOL, SO UNDERSTANDING, IM AN IDIOT, I DONT LIKE TO LISTEN TO PEOPLE SOMETIMES, MOST OF THE TIME. IM NOT THE BEST STUDENT, I KNOW, BUT I LOOK UP TO YOU, HOW STRONG YOU ARE EVEN IN TIMES WHERE ALL HOPE IS LOST, YOU STILL LOVE US FOR EVERYRHING WEVE DONE"
(unabridged, original punctuation and capitalization retained)
He was the sweetest guy I knew. But I was too slow to take the clues, too poor to understand his miseries, too naive to feel his pain…
I saw that he replied immediately after my last message. But I did not check on it as soon as I could. I was nine minutes too late.
Wag po sana kayo magalit sa akin. Hindi ko na po talaga kaya. Salamat po sa lahat.
(Please don’t be mad at me. I really can’t take it. Thank you for everything.)
If I just did my part… If I just listened to him for one last time, maybe I could have changed what had happened. Now, I am eating my words. I hate and do not hate him for the same reason.
My son took his life in the evening of the 8th of October, 2017, through a fatal gunshot in the head. Five days before his birthday; six days before mine.
It was the most devastating point of my life.
I cried all night that night, and I tried my best to figure out what had happened. It was no joke. It was not simply wounding oneself. It was not simply loneliness. It was the emptiness that took him…the desolation…the despair…
The biggest regret is, I was not there to save him. I was not able to say something sensible to save him…to make him feel loved. I was not, by all means, able to help him. Because of it, I feel like a failure.
I lost all hope, all happiness, all feelings in one shot. When he took his life, he took a part of me with him to wherever he is now. That part of me I could never get back. He left this empty space in my heart no one could ever fill. He left me listening to songs and crying myself to sleep asking for him to show up for the last time. He never did. And I know he never will.
Everything was fine, until my son broke his prisons and escaped this earthly sufferings. Everything was fine, until he chose to let go of his pain. Everything was fine, until my son took his last breath for the final blow as he pulled the trigger.
Everything was fine in my life until he left me. And I will never be fine anymore. Never again. Never more.
I love you son, to the moon and back.